NEW YORK -- Voters for the 65th annual Tony Awards demonstrated their faith in The Book of MormonSunday night, showering the irreverent buddy comedy about two unworldly missionaries catapulted from Salt Lake City to a poverty-stricken Ugandan village with nine wins, including best musical.
Broadcast live from the Beacon Theatre on New York's Upper West Side, the ceremony was hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, marking his second turn at the Tony podium after winning an Emmy for emceeing in 2009.
The Mormon haul represents the culmination of a triumphant first foray into Broadway by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who teamed with Avenue Q composer-lyricist Robert Lopez to write the smash hit. Since opening March 24 at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre to rave reviews, Mormon has been playing to capacity houses, grossing more than $1 million per week and totaling roughly $15 million to date. Read The Hollywood Reporter's review here.
The musical earned awards for Parker, Lopez and Stone's book and score, and for Casey Nicholaw and Parker's direction.
"We really want to thank the audiences because you guys made the show what it is and I think you're going to have to atone for it one day," said Parker.
While the show's nominated lead actors Josh Gad and Andrew Rannells perhaps split the vote and both lost that award, Mormon's Nikki M. James was a genuinely surprised winner for featured actress as a Ugandan with wide-eyed dreams of a magical kingdom in Utah.
Top play honors went to War Horse, adapted by Nick Stafford, in association with South Africa's Handspring Puppet Company, from the British children's novel by Michael Morpurgo. The courageous story of a young farm boy from Devon who travels to the trenches of World War I France to be reunited with his beloved horse, the book also has been adapted for the screen by Richard Curtis and Lee Hall for Steven Spielberg's upcoming feature.
Originally produced by the National Theatre of Great Britain and presented on Broadway by Lincoln Center Theater and Bob Boyett, War Horse has been a major draw in New York, grossing around $900,000 per week -- uncommonly high for a non-musical with no stars. Overall, the production took home six Tonys, including direction of a play for Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris, a handful of design awards and a special honor to Handspring founders Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones, who created the breathtaking life-size horse puppets.
With the Dec 28 release of the Spielberg movie sure to steer additional attention to the show, War Horse stands to be a long-lease tenant for Lincoln Center. A second North American production opens in Toronto in February, while the 20-city national tour launches June 13, 2012, at the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles. In one of the Tony telecast's best sight gags, Harris rode onto the stage on one of the equine stars of War Horse. Read THR's review here.
Two revivals also reaped a share of Tony glory, cutting into the sweep factor for the new play and musical winners by taking three awards apiece.
Roundabout Theatre Company's production of the 1934 Cole Porter musical-comedy, Anything Goes, won for musical revival, with Sutton Foster bagging her second Tony for lead actress in a musical (she won in 2002 for Thoroughly Modern Millie) and Kathleen Marshall winning her third for choreography. A previous winner in 2004 for Wonderful Townand in 2006 for The Pajama Game, Marshall, who also directed Anything Goes, knocked out audiences this season with her explosive, big-build dance numbers.
Larry Kramer's impassioned 1985 battle cry against the AIDS epidemic, The Normal Heart, won best play revival for Joel Grey and George C. Wolfe's powerful stripped-down production. It also won matching featured actor nods for John Benjamin Hickey and Ellen Barkin, making her Broadway debut. Both actors gave emotional speeches warmly acknowledging Kramer and his tireless fight against AIDS.
"The freedom to love, the freedom to live and the freedom to marry are all issues that are still with us," said producer Daryl Roth.
"To gay people everywhere whom I love so, The Normal Heart is our history," said Kramer. "I could not have written it had not so many of us so needlessly died. Learn from it and carry on the fight to let them know that we are a very special people, an exceptional people, and our day will come."
Frances McDormand took lead actress in a play for her role as a struggling single mother driven to desperate measures in Boston's blue-collar Southie neighborhood in David Lindsay-Abaire's Good People.
Having won lead actor in a play in 2008 for Boeing-Boeing, Mark Rylance again took the honors for Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem, in which he plays a hard-partying throwback to the dragon-slaying warriors of England's past. And once again, he gave the night's nuttiest acceptance speech, this time about walking through walls. Literally.
Lead actor in a musical went to Norbert Leo Butz in the otherwise overlooked Catch Me if You Can. A previous winner for Dirty Rotten Scoudrels in 2005, Butz won for his role as the paunchy FBI agent tracking wunderkind con man Frank Abagnale Jr. Butz's role was played by Tom Hanks in the Spielberg movie on which the musical was based.
Featured actor in a musical went to multiple Emmy winner John Larroquette in his Broadway debut as the tycoon taken for a ride by Daniel Radcliffe's ambitious young upstart in How to Success in Business Without Really Trying.
Harris opened the ceremony with a showstopper about Broadway as an all-inclusive place, called "It's Not Just For Gays Anymore," with cameo contributions from audience members Stephen Colbert, Brooke Shields(who flubbed her Anthony Weiner joke but was a good sport about it) and Bobby Cannavale.
The expected volley of digs at Spider-Man Turn Off the Darkwas exactly that, with Harris challenging himself to cram as many of them as possible into 30 seconds on the clock. The best of them – "Julie Taymor found out it was over when she woke up with the head of War Horsein her bed" – even drew a big laugh from Bono in the audience.
Bono and the Edge also showed a sense of humor in their presentation of a well-chosen number from the troubled show. "We used to be famous for being in U2," said Bono, acknowledging his newfound respect for seasoned theater professionals. "This humble thing really works for you," said Edge to his bandmate.
Radcliffe may have been shut out of the nominations for his leading turn in How to Succeed, but he led a spirited presentation of the show's biggest number, "The Brotherhood of Man," which should sell tickets.
One of the best of the musical presentations was from The Scottsboro Boys, the final collaboration of legendary composing team John Kander and the late Fred Ebb. While the show failed to win in any of the 12 categories in which it was nominated, the rousing performance should boost awareness for its forthcoming tour, beginning at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre next spring.
Harris got into a cute bout of awards-host rivalry with Hugh Jackman, sung to "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better" and assorted other show tunes. Their interplay and mutual ribbing was a good argument for bringing them both back to co-host next year. Matching his speedily written sung tribute to the winners that closed the 2009 Tonys show, Harris this year concluded with an extended rap about the winners that built into a heartfelt endorsement of the rewards of live theater.
But the undisputed winner of the night was The Book of Mormon, validating the risky move of producer Scott Rudin in deciding to bypass the show's originally planned Off Broadway run and open cold uptown. The win marks the eighth time one of Rudin's productions has taken a top Tony, starting in 1994 with Stephen Sondheim's musical, Passion, and continuing most recently with the 2010 revival of Fences, starring Denzel Washington. Rudin's fellow lead producer on Mormonis South Parkexecutive producer Anne Garefino.
While exact numbers have not been released, advance sales on the show reportedly are huge, with performances sold out for months. Top ticket price has just been raised to a new high of $155 for standard seats (premiums go for double that) with the holiday weeks of Thanksgiving and Christmas selling for $175. That means Mormonwill likely recoup its capitalization (around $9 million) and go into profit well before the end of the year.
The O'Neill is a relatively small theater by musical standards, seating only 1,066. Despite offers to move the show into a larger house, the producers have elected to stay put given that comedy tends to play best in a more intimate space. It also doesn't hurt business to keep ticket demand high.
The show is scheduled to kick off a North American tour in Denver in December 2012, which now can blast "Winner of Nine Tony Awards" across its marquee.
A complete list of winners can be found on the next page.
2011 Tony Award Winners
War Horse by Nick Stafford
The Book of Mormon
Book of a Musical
The Book of Mormon, Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, Matt Stone
The Book of Mormon, music and lyrics Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, Matt Stone
Revival of a Play
The Normal Heart by Larry Kramer
Revival of Musical
Lead Actor in a Play
Mark Rylance, Jerusalem
Lead Actress in a Play
Frances McDormand, Good People
Lead Actor in a Musical
Norbert Leo Butz, Catch Me If You Can
Lead Actress in a Musical
Sutton Foster, Anything Goes
Featured Actor in a Play
John Benjamin Hickey, The Normal Heart
Featured Actress in a Play
Ellen Barkin, The Normal Heart
Featured Actor in a Musical|
John Larroquette, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
Featured Actress in a Musical
Nikki M. James, The Book of Mormon
Direction of a Play
Marianne Elliott, Tom Morris, War Horse
Direction of a Musical
Casey Nicholaw, Trey Parker, The Book of Mormon
Kathleen Marshall, Anything Goes
Larry Hochman, Stephen Oremus, The Book of Mormon
Scenic Design of a Play
Rae Smith, War Horse
Scenic Design of a Musical
Scott Pask, The Book of Mormon
Costume Design of a Play
Desmond Heeley, The Importance of Being Earnest
Costume Design of a Musical
Tim Chappel, Lizzy Gardiner, Priscilla Queen of the Desert
Lighting Design of a Play
Paule Constable, War Horse
Lighting Design of a Musical
Brian MacDevitt, The Book of Mormon
Sound Design of a Play
Christopher Shutt, War Horse
Sound Design of a Musical
Brian Ronan, The Book of Mormon
Special Tony Awards for Lifetime Achievement
Philip J. Smith
Regional Theater Tony Award
Lookingglass Theatre Company, Chicago
Isabelle Stevenson Award
Special Tony Award
Handspring Puppet Company